Chilling find near one of Australia's biggest drinking water reservoirs: 'My stomach turned'

Thousands of kangaroo bones have been discovered at a burial pit just 1km from a major reservoir.

The burial pit around 1km away from South Para Reservoir. Bones can be seen in front of the stagnant water.
The South Para Reservoir burial pit is littered with thousands of bones, many of them from native kangaroos. Source: Supplied

WARNING - DISTURBING CONTENT: Piles of dead kangaroos have been discovered rotting on land adjacent to one of Australia’s biggest drinking water reservoirs.

Public access to land north of SA Water’s South Para Reservoir, which supplies the Barossa Valley wine region, is usually prohibited. But new footage gives insight into what’s referred to internally at the company as a “pest animal” control program. And critics have labelled the gruesome outcome as "unacceptable".

Images and video recorded between October 2023 and May 2024 focus on a burial pit just 1,100 metres from the drinking water reservoir where kangaroo carcasses are frequently dumped by the state government's water supplier.

The man who filmed the pit has in-depth knowledge of the site’s operations, and requested that Yahoo News withhold his identity.

“I don’t think it's the correct way of dealing with them. They call it 'pest management' but if they're piling up roos all they’re doing is attracting foxes,” he said.

Stills from October 2023, December 2023, and March 2024. They show the decaying bones and bodies. And bright green water in the pit.
Stills from October 2023, December 2023, and March 2024 show decaying kangaroo bodies and bones dumped at the burial pit. Source: Supplied

The man's pictures show the burial pit frequently fills with water after rain, becomes stagnant and turns green. Video from December shows bodies piled up nearby and floating in the liquid, but months later they've disappeared and all that remains are bones.

“There were bones everywhere. It looked like a massacre site,” the anonymous photographer said.

Despite the pit’s proximity to the reservoir, SA Water maintains the decaying bodies do not pose a contamination risk.

"The water shown in this photo is not the reservoir or any other water source, it is a small volume in the bottom of a pit following a significant rainfall event," a spokesperson for the company said.

SA Water has also dismissed concerns about kangaroo bodies attracting vermin to the site.

"Kangaroos may be placed on the edge of a pit like this before usually being moved into the pit once the water subsides, with the pit then backfilled as part of our regular operational activities," it said.

Animal carcasses placed in the pit are covered and as a result there are no significant issues with vermin in or around these locations. The site in the photo is within a restricted area, far from public access or water sources and does not pose any water quality concerns.”

A red circle indicates the kangaroo burial pit 1km away from the reservoir on a Google Map.
A red circle indicates the kangaroo burial pit 1km away from the reservoir. Source: Google Earth/Airbus
A decaying carcass of a kangaroo north of the South Para Reservoir.
Some observers are concerned rotting kangaroo carcasses could attract foxes to the site. But SA Water says the bodies are covered and aren't a significant issue. Source: Supplied

Kangaroo shooting as a means of population control is controversial. It constitutes the largest slaughter of land-based wildlife in the world and has been compared to Canada’s baby seal hunt and Japan’s dolphin slaughter.

SA Water maintains the kangaroos at its South Para Reservoir site have periodically reached “very high numbers” and that overabundance “may” pose a threat to drinking water, inflict “minor” damage to fences, and cause accidents with vehicles.

The government agency has regularly allowed volunteer shooters to enter land around the reservoir to shoot invasive species including deer, foxes, rabbits and goats. But records supplied to Yahoo from SA Water show native kangaroos are one of the most frequently targeted animals.

SA Water’s kangaroo shooting program is legal, it maintains killing them is a “necessary” form of land management, and it was diligent in responding to all questions raised by Yahoo News.

However the photographer who has documented the burial pit disputes the numbers at the site are high. He has increasingly become concerned about the morality of gunning down and burying the native creatures, noting many of them are docile and will approach humans.

“When I first saw the burial pit I thought: What the hell is this? My stomach turned and over time I started to think: This is so bad,” he recalled.

“I feel like if other people knew about this, then they'd have a different opinion about what's right and what's wrong.”

Advocacy group Kangaroos Alive also shares that concern. The animal advocacy group doesn't buy the government position that kangaroos need to be controlled and it has taken issue with SA Water referring to them as “pests”.

“Kangaroos are native grazers that have co-evolved with Australian ecosystems for over 20 million years and are crucial ecosystem engineers,” its campaign manager Dennis Vink said.

“Kangaroos continue to be scapegoated, while their contribution to the total grazing pressure is minimal compared to introduced livestock and herbivores. It is unacceptable that the SA government refers to kangaroos as pests when they are not, resulting in them being treated just as poorly.”

Looking generally at the welfare of kangaroos during culling programs, SA Water and Kangaroos Alive are polarised.

SA Water maintains its shooters comply with “ethical codes of practice” and animals at its sites are killed in a “humane” way. But Vink argues its impossible to ensure welfare standards are met when the culling occurs out of the public eye and without monitoring.

Speaking generally about kangaroo shooting in Australia, Vink is concerned there is no way of ensuring animals are quickly dispatched. He also takes exception to government prescribed methods of killing joeys — decapitating or bludgeoning them to death.

"The killing of kangaroos takes place under the cover of night in remote areas, out of sight of the public and the government, evading all scrutiny from both," he said.

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